The Biggest Animal Welfare Myth in the South
June 10, 2012
Ever since relocating to South Carolina many years ago, and particularly since becoming an advocate for shelter pets throughout the south, I have heard the same myth repeated ad nauseum by shelter staff, volunteers and advocates in general: The reason our shelters kill so many pets is because we don’t have strong mandatory spay-neuter (MSN) laws like they do in the north where pet overpopulation is no longer a problem. This is false. It is not true. It is false and untrue and wrong on so many levels, I want to scream every time I hear it.
Let me break it down:
1. Pet overpopulation is a myth. Do the math. There are enough homes for every shelter pet in this country.
2. MSN laws are not the answer to ending the killing of healthy/treatable pets in shelters. The No Kill Equation is the only set of programs proven to end the killing of healthy/treatable shelter pets, as evidenced by the dozens of no kill communities all over the U.S. There are some cities and counties throughout the U.S. which have MSN but in every case, the law has failed to stem the tide of shelter pet impounds and killing. MSN sacrifices pets’ lives to ideology. MSN does not reduce/eliminate shelter pet killing and it’s failed everywhere it’s been enacted. Some examples:
- The city of Los Angeles enacted MSN in 2008 and after the first year, shelter intake and killings were up. Killings increased after the second year as well. The third year was yet another failure.
- Intakes and killings increased in Las Vegas after the city enacted MSN in 2010.
- When CA was considering statewide MSN legislation in 2007, the past president of the California Veterinary Medical Association wrote a lengthy letter to the Board detailing his opposition.
- Killings and costs both went up in King Co, WA after MSN was passed in 1992.
As a result, most every major animal welfare group in the country opposes MSN. That list includes:
- The No Kill Advocacy Center explains “Why Punitive Legislation Fails”
- Alley Cat Allies points out that MSN does not reach most intact cats
- “Best Friends does not support mandatory spay-neuter legislation as a method of pet population control.”
- The “ASPCA is not aware of any credible evidence demonstrating a statistically significant enhancement in the reduction of shelter intake or euthanasia as a result of the implementation of a mandatory spay/neuter law.”
- The American Veterinary Medical Association opposes MSN.
3. The reason shelter pets are being sent to the landfill in the south at such an astonishing rate is because shelter directors are killing them. To imply that pet owners in the south are too irresponsible to neuter their pets is not only untrue, it’s insulting. We have rampant poverty here in the south and a wide range of problems that accompany it. Pet owners here are similar to those in other parts of the country – some irresponsible but most trying to do right by their pets. We are lacking in access to low/no cost neuter services, transportation and community outreach. Implementing a law requiring owners to neuter their dogs and cats does nothing to address those problems.
4. Northern states do not have MSN laws requiring all owners to have their dogs and cats neutered – in fact, no state in the country has such a law.
Rhode Island legislated MSN for all cats over the age of 6 months in 2006. The annual permit to keep an intact cat costs $100 and does not allow the animal to be bred. The breeder’s permit costs $200 a year and there are additional requirements regarding vaccinations and care. Violators face fines of $75 per month. I have been unable to find any statistical information to show what, if any, effect the law has had on the number of cats being impounded and killed by RI shelters. If anyone has any data for RI shelters to share, please leave a comment. In the absence of any proclamations to the contrary, I think it’s reasonable to guess that RI has not become a no kill state for cats since MSN was passed.
In 1996, Camden, New Jersey enacted MSN requiring a $500 permit for anyone who kept an intact pet over the age of 6 months. The annual permit fee is currently $100 and intact animals must meet other requirements, such as annual vaccinations, in order to be approved each year. Anyone who hasn’t bought the permit and whose dog or cat has a litter is required to surrender the litter at the age of 8 weeks to the pound and have the mother spayed within 10 weeks. The state of New Jersey has annual stats posted online for animal intake and disposition, broken down by county. The reports start in 2004 and I looked at Camden Co’s numbers for each year available. Intakes are generally trending up – 7464 dogs and cats impounded in 2004, 12,716 in 2009. Camden Co’s kill rate in 2004 was 27% and in 2009 it was 26%. By comparison, the statewide average kill rate in 2004 was 43% but down to 34% in 2009. While Camden Co’s kill rate was consistently lower than the statewide average in the years 2004 through 2009, the question must be asked: Why is Camden Co impounding so many more animals than in 2004 but failing to reduce its kill rate in keeping with the rest of the state? Camden has MSN, the rest of the state does not. Further, Camden Co has failed to match the lifesaving success rates of 90% or better achieved in dozens of communities around the country – none of which have MSN.
Contrary to the claim made by a SC rescue group on this page, the state of NH does not have a mandatory spay-neuter law (nor do I know of any city or county within the state that has MSN). It does have an Animal Population Control (APC) program which offers assistance to pet owners who meet certain income guidelines and want to have their pets neutered. Owners of intact dogs pay an extra $2.50 for their licenses (over the license fee for neutered dogs) and that money goes toward the APC program. The voluntary program has resulted in a dramatic decrease in shelter animal killings and has saved taxpayers money. A couple of noteworthy items: NH has the lowest poverty rate in the country. And while NH does have a very low kill rate, shelter pets are still killed throughout the state.
We pet owners in the south are not bad people. Please stop blaming us for shelter pet killing. Stereotypes and insults do not save pets’ lives. The programs of the No Kill Equation do. If southern shelters would stop blaming the public long enough to check the facts, they would see that the public is part of the solution to the problem. We can help network, foster and adopt pets. We can get our pets neutered if given the means to do so. We can volunteer at and donate to our local shelters. But we’re not going to do any of those things if we are constantly demonized by our neighbors in the animal welfare community. You’re driving us away with your myths and your blame and your pet killing. Your way isn’t working. Why not try something new? Preferably, something real and proven.